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“WHY DIDN’T SHE LEAVE?”

By Njideka Agbo
17 April 2022   |   6:33 am
30/03/2020- France was thrown into a frenzy. At a time governments, organisations, and individuals were trying to understand the novel coronavirus and witnessing first-hand the effects of the virus, the French government was negotiating with hotels and stores to accommodate victims of domestic abuse. According to the Gender Equality Minister, Marlene Schiappa, the decision to…

30/03/2020- France was thrown into a frenzy. At a time governments, organisations, and individuals were trying to understand the novel coronavirus and witnessing first-hand the effects of the virus, the French government was negotiating with hotels and stores to accommodate victims of domestic abuse.

According to the Gender Equality Minister, Marlene Schiappa, the decision to treat this as an emergency was because the number of abuse cases and reports in the country had risen drastically. The government, Schiappa said, would book 20,000 hotel nights. One million euros ($1.1 million) was also set aside to support anti-domestic abuse organisations when they required a need.

While this was about to kick off, women in Spain were already visiting pharmacies requesting “Mask 19”- a code word to inform the attendee about a domestic violence case and the urgent need to call the police authorities. 

In Africa, particularly Ethiopia, gender-based violence (GBV) is treated as a common experience, despite its ravaging war and food crises. Over 76.5% of women will experience GBV during their lifetime in the country.

Nigeria isn’t left out. The Lagos State Domestic and Gender Violence Response Team recorded 3,193 cases of gender-based violence in 2020. In a Guardian Life’s October special on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, Titilola Vivour Adeniyi, executive secretary of the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Agency (DSVRT) reporting on the spike wrote, “we saw new heights of extreme violence meted out on women and girls, pregnant women, young girls that are courting, women were maimed for life as a result of DV, women requiring psychiatric evaluation and experiencing mental health breakdown as a result of the violence experienced.” 

As GBV remains a threat around the world, the UN’s report in 2022 states that about one in three women and girls worldwide (736 million) will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime”. 

Moreso, a United Nations (2019) report noted that 49 countries have no law to protect women from this type of violence. 

Why GBV?

Amid the different needs for power, the root remains the same: control. As a driving force, one of the immemorial test-proof tactics has been the subjugation of fellow man through fear, violence and threats, or in the words of a marriage and family therapist, Mayra Mendez, PhD, “deprivation.”

In an interview with Everyday Health, Mendez notes, “It could involve a pattern of deprivation — of love, food, or money — or humiliation, neglect, or basic self-care. The intent is to maintain power and control over the person.”

One of the most common forms of GBV, intimate partner violence remains a constant variable among women of 18 to 24. A new research published in the Clinical Psychology Review with the titlePersonality disorders as predictors of intimate partner violence: A meta-analysis” found that liars, impulsive actors, the insecure, those unbothered about their safety or for others, antisocial, and borderline personalities, most likely turned out to be victims or abusers.

Speaking on this as a resort, Vivour tells Guardian Life that “when a child gets used to abuse, it is likely they will see it as normal. So they grow up into adulthood and they have a series of internal conflicts. The next thing they do to express their lack of satisfaction is to hit their partner or have partners that will be abusive towards them.”

Olive Ogedengbe, a clinical psychologist with Friedlich Consulting, tells Guardian Life, “most abusers believe that it is not that serious. The abuser sometimes claims that they hit the victim because it was the best way to curb her (the victim’s) excesses.”

Vivour adds, “such person might not even realise that they are being abused. They will believe it is their fault.”

“Bed of roses”

 “If you see any man that cries after hitting you and saying he never hits anyone, you are the first, run. Carry your slippers and run. Don’t look back,” a victim who prefers to remain anonymous for fear of societal victimisation told me.

Pregnant with her third child and a victim of intimate partner violence, Chinyere Ogudoro sought help from her aunt, Duru Eke Edna. Her husband, Benjamin Ogudoro whom she married in 2004, had beaten her “mercilessly” AGAIN. Picking up the pieces of her life, she successfully built her own home and peace was restored until calls for reconciliation started again. 

“When they reconciled, I did not know. They didn’t inform me… I asked him, are you sure you have genuinely repented? He said yes,” Edna continued. Shortly after the conversation, Chinyere informed Edna of their intention to relocate to Glasgow, Scotland. 

It was after she was burnt to death by her husband that news of the quarrel they had before she left surfaced. According to a member of the family, Chinyere’s problem started again when Benjamin discovered that his name was not on the documents of the house she built. 

Claiming it is premeditated, Edna says that Chinyere’s brother, Ifeanyi, who was also burnt alive, said before his death that the husband poured fuel on him and his sister before using the matches.

Chinyere’s case is not an isolated one. A study by the ministry of women’s affairs and social development and the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) Nigeria found that “44% of divorced, separated or widowed women reported experiencing violence since age 15, while 25% of married women or those living with their spouses have experienced violence.” 

WHO reports that women who suffered intimate partner violence “were 16% more likely to suffer a miscarriage and 41% more likely to have a pre-term birth.” 

Why didn’t she leave?

“Research shows that it can take approximately 7 attempts before a survivor permanently leaves an abusive partner-” Women against abuse

Anita, not based in Nigeria, is lucky to tell her story. She recalls that the signs were there from the beginning, but she believed it would pass with time. “At first, I believed that I must have said something triggering. He slapped me so hard I didn’t come out of the house for days because I was taking medications. But now that I think about it, all I said was ‘you must be joking as a tease.’” 

The social cycle theory developed by Lenore E. Walker in 1979 highlights four stages in the cycle of abuse: tension, incident, reconciliation, and calm.

In the third and last stages, the abuser exhibits signs of remorse or fear of attracting law enforcement authorities. During this time, gifts, affection, promises to change, and unfamiliar attention are given to the victim, triggering the release of dopamine and oxytocin. It is in these stages that the victim believes the abuser is attempting to change.

This cycle may take years to break.

Furthermore, Vivour notes that socialisation puts pressure on women to be held responsible for the feelings of their partners. “There is so much pressure that is placed on survivors. So when a woman starts experiencing domestic violence, they don’t have that courage because they fear that might be stigmatised. They don’t stay because they are enjoying the marriage, they stay because there are institutions that frown against leaving.”

Another important factor is finance. Victims often require shelter, food and security from a support system when they find the courage. However, their immediate needs, security, shelter and food are a cause for concern. Often, they are unaware of the trust funds cut across Nigeria available that cater to their needs. In Lagos, for instance, victims can visit the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Agency (DSVA) to access this trust fund.

In 2020, Mirabel Centre, Nigeria’s first sexual assault referral centre, established a partnership with Bolt to provide free emergency rides.

Silence Is Violence

Some of the lived experiences that the victims face can cause them to let it go unreported. However, this can cause harm and, ultimately, death. Although the willingness to leave must come from the victim, persons aware of the violence or who victims confide in have a responsibility to encourage them until they have a voice and utilise some of the options in the aforementioned paragraph and if need be, report to the right authorities with their permission.

Additionally, there exist Non-Governmental Organisations like WARIF that offer free sessions with clinical psychologists. What’s more? MediaConcern has a digital directory on sexual assault referral centres.

State governments like Lagos appear to have taken the action against GBV seriously, particularly with its sensitisation in local government councils. Some NGOs organisations, such as the Hands Off Initiative, have also undertaken this role.

So before you ask “why didn’t she leave?” ask “what have I done to help her live?”

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are”- Anais Nin